In a digital world where many businesses consider monthly active users (MAUs) an important KPI, all users are created equal. But when we look at music streaming, where some users pay for a premium, advertisement-free service, and others access song libraries completely free, are they really equal? Music streaming platforms present us with a unique case of user experience vs. customer experience. Every listener of a streaming service is a user by default, but not all are customers.
Streaming is a market segment growing so rapidly that it makes up the majority of digital music revenue, which now accounts for 50% of all recorded music revenues. These numbers are powered by the 112 million+ users of paid subscriptions globally.
So what’s the appeal?
Accessibility & Consumption
Streaming services allow for anytime and anywhere access across all devices. It has completely changed the way we consume and share music. We can digest so much so quickly and can share it instantly. We’ve even developed a sense of urgency when it comes to sharing. Here is an actual text message I have both sent and received many times:
Discovery & Personalization
The scope and ease with which we can discover new music would have been unfathomable to baby boomers in their twenties. “The only way to find new music was to hear it on the radio. People had favorite stations because they played music they liked, and they hoped to hear new songs on that station too,” said Peter Cary, music enthusiast, real life baby boomer, and my dad. Music platforms now have advanced algorithms that make suggestions for us based on our listening history. Content is curated specifically for our tastes and we are given full playlists of songs we’ve never heard before. Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature uses AI and machine learning to craft new playlists for each of its 100 million users every Monday. This level of personalization is achieved by analyzing behavioral data, the raw audio tracks themselves, and text associated with songs and artists.
People can exchange thoughts and find others with similar tastes directly within these platforms. There are even opportunities to communicate directly with artists. A friend recently shared a YouTube video in which well-known DJ Deadmau5 listens to a vocal demo a fan created for one of his tracks he’d found on SoundCloud. The official release of the song included these fan vocals and ended up on Rolling Stone’s list of the best 50 songs that year. This was five years ago, and music streaming and sharing have come a long way since then.
Each of these aspects that make music streaming so appealing – accessibility, consumption, discovery, personalization, community – are also key components for delivering positive, memorable customer experiences. So what exactly is the difference between user experience and customer experience, and how do they interact? In trying to find an answer, I asked SoundCloud‘s Director of Brand Communications and Integrated Marketing, Erika Amundson Leone:
“It’s less of a differentiation and more of a way they can work together. User experience has a lot to do with ease of use and utility, so that happens on a functional level in many different ways. It is very important to the customer, but could also exist on its own, in a lot of ways. The customer experience has so much emotion tied to it, and involves how people are interacting with the technology, that the potential there is just so much richer. It’s that combination of understanding sentiment and usability.”
UX is the utilitarian aspect of CX. It aims to provide exceptional functionality within a clean, easy to navigate interface. In terms of how the two exist concurrently but as distinct entities, the figure below illustrates it well:
Here we see that while UX is a component of customer experience, CX has a much greater scope. It is an umbrella concept that includes every interaction a person has with a brand, every touch during each step of the consumer journey, and how the customer feels about the brand. Usability versus overall sentiment.
The CX aspect of music streaming is influenced by several factors, including paid vs. free streaming, device choice and content selection. The UX aspect of music streaming should remain consistent on both free and premium accounts, and for the most part it does. With the exception of song previews and advertisements for free streaming, the interfaces are exactly the same. In 2016, J.D. Power conducted a music streaming customer satisfaction survey. Not surprisingly, the study found higher satisfaction among users paying for their streaming services. No one wants their listening to be interrupted with ads, or to look for a song only to realize you can listen to just the first 30 seconds. Although this begs this question, if you’re not paying for the service, are you still a customer? Technically not, but all users have the potential to be converted to paying subscribers.
It seems that reporting positive customer experiences in music streaming is dependent upon the degree to which listeners are engaged and sharing. The same study found that the key to streaming success is becoming “how well brands create a viable music ecosystem that can not only support multiple types of devices, but also facilitate listeners’ social sharing and following of playlists with others.” With community and sharing being two of the primary draws for music streaming, it seems logical for platforms to focus their efforts here to create positive UX and CX.
UX is just one element of the greater customer experience landscape, but CX inevitably includes interaction with the digital aspects of the business – in this case apps and websites. UX does have the power to significantly influence overall CX, particularly in music streaming. The majority of customer interactions occur within these digital landscapes, and brand perception is largely shaped based on how we use these platforms. Given that music listeners who share playlists and follow other users report the highest overall satisfaction with music streaming, we can see the importance of user engagement on generating positive experiences.
With that knowledge, streaming providers can encourage listeners to utilize social aspects of the platforms, find new innovative ways to engage them and will be on track to achieving smarter customer experiences.
Views and opinions expressed by the author belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.